Edmonton's incoming city council reflects voters' desire for change

Amarjeet Sohi, who will be Edmonton’s first mayor of South Asian origin, will lead the most diverse city council in the city’s history.

Diverse group of 13 includes more women, more people of colour

Edmonton's newly elected mayor and councillors. Top row, left to right: Amarjeet Sohi, Erin Rutherford, Jo-Anne Wright, Keren Tang. Middle row, left to right: Sarah Hamilton, Andrew Knack, Michael Janz. Bottom row, left to right: Jennifer Rice, Tim Cartmell, Karen Principe, Ashley Salvador, Anne Stevenson, Aaron Paquette. (Photo collage by John Zazula/CBC)

Amarjeet Sohi, who will be Edmonton's first mayor of South Asian origin, will lead the most diverse city council in the city's history.

Eight of the 12 councillors elected Monday night are women, up from two on the previous council.

Four council members — Sohi, Keren Tang, Aaron Paquette and Jennifer Rice — are people of colour.

New faces are taking the places of four defeated incumbents — Tony Caterina, Jon Dziadyk, Moe Banga and Bev Esslinger.

According to Edmonton Elections, 37.6 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots.

Robyn Henwood, an Alberta chair for Equal Voice, a national organization that works to elect and support women at all levels of political office, said the night was a breakthrough win for female representation.

"This is an absolute win," Henwood said Tuesday. "These are wonderful candidates, regardless if they are female, but to see eight women on council really represents Edmonton.

"It is so good to see so many women stepping up and being acknowledged for their hard work and for what they can contribute."

Before Monday, the highest number of women elected to Edmonton city council was seven, in 1989. That year, Jan Reimer became the first woman elected Edmonton's mayor, and six of the 12 aldermen were women. Council voted to drop "alderman" in favour of "councillor" six years later.

With only four councillors from the previous council maintaining their seats, newcomers will outnumber veterans. 

Competing visions 

Sohi rolled to a commanding victory over Mike Nickel, his closest challenger.

Dave Cournoyer, host of Daveberta, a political podcast, said Sohi's race against Nickel set the stage for a battle between "two different visions of Edmonton." 

Nickel, a vocal critic of LRT expansion and the city's spending decisions, had campaigned on tax cuts and enhancing safety and community policing.

Sohi campaigned on community investment, especially in social programs for homelessness, mental health and poverty, and vowed to support  LRT expansion.

Cournoyer said Sohi's leadership style will likely echo that of his predecessor, Don Iveson.

Sohi's win shows Edmontonians were eager to maintain Iveson's legacy of "city building," and not looking for cuts, Cournoyer said. 

Amarjeet Sohi says it is an honour to be the next mayor of Edmonton

12 months ago
Duration 1:51
In his acceptance speech Monday evening, Amarjeet Sohi says, ‘As a bus driver, councilor and federal minister, I helped to move so many people through this city, but tonight I'm the one who's moved by this city.’

Two of the tightest Edmonton races, too close to be called on election night, were called Tuesday morning. 

In Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi, Jennifer Rice narrowly defeated Rhiannon Hoyle by 39 votes.

In Ward Anirniq, Erin Rutherford defeated incumbent Bev Esslinger by 266 votes. Esslinger had been on council since 2013.

Rutherford said she was overwhelmed with the support she received from voters and her campaign team.

She said she plans to build on Esslinger's legacy, and looks forward to working with her new colleagues.

"I am really excited to see what we can achieve together," Rutherford said in an interview Tuesday. 

"There is a lot of fresh new energy backed with a lot of diverse knowledge and skills and experiences, so I think it's going to be a really great team to move this city forward." 

In Ward Sspomitapi, two-term councillor Moe Banga lost to Jo-Anne Wright, a rookie candidate with a background in financial services and human resources and labour relations. 

In Ward O-day'min, incumbent Tony Caterina lost to Anne Stevenson, a former urban planner with the City of Edmonton. In Ward tastawiyiniwak, incumbent Jon Dziadyk lost to Karen Principe, a dental hygienist.

Stevenson and Principe will be joined on council by other newcomers Michael Janz in Ward papastew, Ashley Salvador in Ward Métis and Keren Tang in Ward Karhiio.

The new faces on council point to a further progressive shift — and a desire for change — among Edmonton voters, Cournoyer said. 

"Anybody who pays attention to municipal politics in Alberta and in Edmonton will know that it's really hard to defeat incumbents, so to have four incumbents defeated in one municipal election, that's really a sea change. 

"And considering you've had a number of city councillors retire and new councillors elected in open wards, it will be an entirely new face on city council … Edmontonians were in the mood for change."

The 'ground game'

MacEwan University political scientist Chaldeans Mensah said the new candidates delivered a surprise hit to incumbents who entered the campaign with the benefit of experience and name recognition.

He said the candidates used "on-the-ground" campaign tactics to shape the outcome to their advantage.

"They used the ground game effectively," he said. "Their volunteers were out there getting votes.

"And perhaps the incumbents were waiting to roll with the name-recognition factor ... taking it for granted.

"These guys, these challengers, went out there and got the vote out. It's a really simple equation."

'Fresh ideas and fresh faces'

Political analyst Najib Jutt said he was disappointed that there wasn't more racial diversity represented on council but feels the new recruits will help steer the city in the right direction. 

"In terms of gender representation and overall representation of marginalized and racialized voices, we have a pretty good council that's more reflective of Edmonton," he said.

"I think it's good for Edmonton to have a new council — some old guard to come back and keep everyone in line. But overall, just to have some great new fresh ideas and fresh faces." 

Incumbents Tim Cartmell in Ward pihêsiwin, Andrew Knack in Ward Nakota Isga, Sarah Hamilton in Ward sipiwiyiniwak and Aaron Paquette in Ward Dene all won re-election.

'Hit the road running'

Council works best when there is a lot of "push and pull" on major issues, Paquette said in an interview Tuesday. He said he expects this new council will have that healthy tension.

He said he looks forward to helping his new colleagues get their bearings. 

"Getting on council, It's exciting initially, right out of the gate and then the firehose of information hits you," he said.

"There's a lot of adjustment to be made, and I hope that some of us grizzled veterans can help shorten the learning curve this time around because we've got a lot of work to do to hit the road running." 

The new councillors will be sworn in Oct. 26. Council meetings will resume in early November.


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.

With files from Travis McEwan


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